Looters Made Off With Drugs From Pharmacies During Protests

(Bloomberg) -- Looters broke into pharmacies and made off with oxycodone and other drugs during recent protests that swept through U.S. cities, federal officials say.

More than 620 pharmacies were looted, burglarized or set on fire during the recent two-week period of civil unrest, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. That number represents what the agency usually sees over six months, Katherine Pfaff, a DEA spokeswoman, said Wednesday by email.

The thefts appear to be crimes of opportunity and not a coordinated effort, Pfaff said.

Among the most commonly stolen drugs are oxycodone, codeine, amphetamines, benzodiazepines, codeine cough syrup, Xanax, Valium, tramadol and buprenorphine, according to the agency.

“Those drugs have a tremendous resale value on the black market,” Patrick Trainor, a special agent with the DEA, said in a phone interview earlier this month. “It’s very very profitable. It’s certainly our experience that pharmacies are hit exactly for that reason.”

The thefts are occurring even as many of the drugs are required to be kept in heavy safes attached to the foundations of the buildings, Trainor said.

The destruction forced the closing of hundreds of pharmacies, both independent stores and ones that were part of national chains.

CVS Health Corp. spokesman Mike DeAngelis said a total of 400 stores were affected by the protests and closed at some point, but most pharmacies weren’t robbed. Fewer than 20 remain closed for repairs, he said. DeAngelis declined to specify how many prescription medications were taken and what types of drugs were stolen. CVS operates nearly 9,900 stores across the U.S.

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. spokesman Jim Cohn said about 300 stores sustained varying degrees of damage, the majority of which were lightly damaged and about 75 of which had moderate to heavy damage. About 35 stores remain temporarily closed due to damage. Walgreens operates nearly U.S. 9,300 drugstores. Rite Aid Corp. declined to comment.

Within the DEA’s New York Field Division, for instance, from April 1 to June 16 there were 46 reports of break-ins, a 1,050% increase from the same period last year, Pfaff said.

In some instances, pharmacies have been destroyed and were unable to conduct an audit of which drugs were taken, Pfaff said.

Protests have swept through major U.S. cities following the death on May 25 of George Floyd while he was being restrained by Minneapolis police. While most have been peaceful, some people have taken advantage of the demonstrations to loot stores.

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